On Intimacy and Identity with Neen Sever
Meet erotic artist, content creator, writer and HANX ambassador, Neen Sever. Their soft, hazily-hued pieces transcend traditional themes of sensuality and identity, discoverable on Only Fans and via independent adult filmmaker Erika Lust’s XConfessions series. ☁️ We caught up with Neen to discuss the role inclusivity can play within branding, exploring and drawing inspiration from queerness and "the zucchini experience..."
HI NINA, CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO IN FIVE WORDS?
Hi! I go with the flow…? ☺
WHERE DID YOUR JOURNEY WITH CREATING EROTIC ART BEGIN?
It’s very hard to tell at this point. Technically, it started when I was studying photography at school as a teenager and for no particular reason decided to take provocative self-portraits for an assignment. I just always wonder if it was the photography to inspire me or my own sense of eroticism. But I guess that if it wasn’t photography, it would have been video making, or writing, or dancing, and I actually do all of those things. Sometimes they entwine, sometimes they are kept separate, but I think that expressing passion is not about the tools I use, it’s about who I am.
THE PAST YEAR HAS SEEN MANY OF US LIVING APART FROM SEXUAL PARTNERS AND IN TURN, EXPLORING NEW FORMS OF SENSUALITY, USUALLY THROUGH A SCREEN. WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR CREATING INTIMACY THROUGH A LENS?
Creating with photography for me has many analogies with what is perceived as the more stereotypical intimacy, like sex for instance. Sometimes photography can be goal-oriented, and I struggle with that because I never have the final image in my mind, I only have concepts and ideas floating and entwining with my perception of the light, which is the second most important thing to me, the first being the model. When I have sex with someone, it rarely starts from the thought of me in a specific position at the end of the run, so to speak, it’s more about me desiring pleasure, seeking sensations, craving intimacy with the person I am with or that I’m thinking about. I don’t want to be goal-oriented in my photos, I just want to have an immersive experience with the model, I want to document the moment and use my skills to make it look beautiful and meaningful, and I’m constantly refining my technical knowledge to make sure everything goes smoothly and I don’t waste my time; it’s very similar when I engage in sexual activities with my partners, we don’t chase orgasms, we just enjoy each other, because all the other sensations are very pleasant and fulfilling. I mean, orgasms are very welcome, but they are not the focus of the entire experience, they are just a part of a whole.
It becomes a way of seeing intimacy in general, it’s a shared moment of openness and any other emotions that the people involved feel like sharing. Then, those movements and feelings can be documented, and that’s what I do; it’s not always sexual, there is perhaps some erotic energy, but it happens on its own with the right intentions. Setting the intentions doesn’t ruin the natural flow of things, it actually creates the space for the unknown to happen in a safe way. I think that’s why making my own erotic films never feels like a product, but rather as a well-documented experience I feel like sharing. I still treat it as a job, but there is a reason I’ve chosen a job I love, or it’s chosen me, I still don’t know. Sex work is work, but I also think that creating with sexuality and intimacy has a slightly different emotional risk assessment that other kinds of jobs don’t have.
So, I keep all that in mind before I engage in anything that involves a deeper state of intimacy, whether I am alone or with someone else, whether it’s for work or just for my private enjoyment. I snap myself out of a professional or personal connection if my sense of pleasure gets a bit blurry. It is not too dissimilar from when I feel like sharing a video clip or a selfie with someone I am attracted to and who finds me attractive. I have to sense something first and then see in which direction to go, it’s very personal, so my advice is not to follow any advice and find the inner compass – which is a paradox because technically mine is still advice. ☺ So, perhaps just experiment for yourself, discard what feels wrong, keep what feels good, take time to analyse what felt uncomfortable. Give yourself time, create a safe space.
AS AN ARTIST, YOU EXPLORE IDENTITY, QUEERNESS AND FREEDOM - WHERE DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION IF NOT FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES?
I just keep my eyes open and try not to hyper-focus on a specific thought for too long. I trust my mind, I know that my brain will turn the gear in the right way to elaborate a concept. I just collect the information around me, and it could be in the form of sounds, images, people talking to each other, a film, a song, my childhood memories, my experiences compared to those of my friends; I listen closely to my community, but I also step away to let the words brew in my mind and see what aligns with my morality, what needs to be changed, or in which way I can contribute to the discourse.
I make sure that I connect with the world and other humans in a way that makes me feel wholesome, I make sure I don’t lose myself in the process. I draw inspiration from those connections. I actively work on not categorizing and labelling too much, because everything is entwined and bonded, and that to me is being queer.
Some other times, I am grocery-shopping and a concept slaps me in the face and I stop in the middle of the fruit and veg section, and I stare into nothing with a zucchini in my hand. That is also a very valid human experience. The zucchini doesn’t care if I am queer or non-binary or whatever, and that’s quite soothing. It’s a good neutral but inspiring space to be, so I can reset as a human being first, and only then as a non-binary artist and activist. I’d call it the zucchini experience… ☺
AS SOMEONE WHO IS NON-BINARY, HOW DOES THE USE OF GENDER NEUTRAL TERMS BY BRANDS MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO YOUR LIFE?
It might seem like a small thing to someone, but to me personally, it makes all the difference. I remember when HANX changed from “male condoms” to “condoms” on their packaging! I felt seen, I felt like I existed, like what I have between my legs doesn’t define my gender and it felt intimate and private, it was freeing. I knew I could buy the condoms and just focus on the pleasure with penis owners that didn’t identify as male, and I knew they wouldn’t have intrusive thoughts about the whole gender discourse in a moment when we should just enjoy ourselves and each other. I could engage in sexual activities with vagina owners and we could use the condoms on the sex toys and not have the word “male” get between us. A condom is just a condom but its meaning can shift when the companies decide to brand it in quite specific ways.
The same goes for all the other kinds of products. Lubes, condoms, sex toys, lingerie and other pleasure products can be used by anyone regardless of their gender.
It is just a language inclusivity issue, but language defines the way we think and behave.
FROM SEXTECH TO PERIOD-CARE: HOW CAN INDUSTRIES CHAMPION DIVERSITY AND CREATE POSITIVE CHANGE - FROM SMALL ACTIONS TO WIDER PROGRESS?
I think it’s alright to have gender binary branding, but the problem comes when that’s the only option available. Not all women bleed, men bleed too; not all women have vaginas and not all men have penises; many people with vaginas or penises are neither male nor female. Giving these people options that wouldn’t make them feel violated and like someone else has agency over their own bodies, and specifically genitals, is a matter of humanity, not just a hedonistic comfort.
Brands and companies have the privilege and the power to change things because once they are on a slightly higher level, their voice can be heard. Not to use that power is not simply negligence, it’s an act of selfishness, and it’s an active choice to ignore those who suffer. Once the brands decide to step into their costumers’ lives, they have responsibility for the message they carry through their products. Everything is connected. Ignoring their costumers’ demands, or expecting them to turn to another company, is simply cruel because the options are always limited for the minorities. I am quite tired of the word “minority”, and I hope we will come up with something with a more hopeful connotation.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR GENDERED PRODUCTS, PARTICULARLY WITHIN THE SEXUAL WELLNESS SPACE?
Fortunately, things are changing. Gendered products feel limiting even to the cis-gendered people. There is a lot of pressure on men and womxn to do certain things in specific ways because that’s just what’s expected of them based on societal standards. Many womxn still feel ashamed to carry around condoms, or lubes, or their favourite sex toys; men are scared of trying things that the mainstream society perceives as homosexual, let’s say anal sex. I find all this very sad, but I am glad that the perceptions are shifting, and I think that is partly thanks to those little changes I mentioned earlier.
When we change the language and make it less binary, less specific and more inclusive, we give everyone the possibility to do what feels right, and not what’s expected of them. If the products don’t have a gender, then everyone, literally everyone can do whatever they want and whatever feels right, without questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation.
There is a huge pleasure intersection, and it’s more prominent by the minute, it’s happening right now as we are having this conversation, as many other people all over the world are giving each other the space to open up and learn something. The approach to sex education is also changing, not only focusing on contraception and STI, as if sex was this evil thing to stay away from, but by prioritising pleasure and self-care from both physical and emotional perspectives. Pleasure product companies are becoming a point of reference to learn more about sexuality, and while some brands are taking active responsibility by providing education, others are maybe unaware of the influence they have on people, especially on younger generations that are starving to learn more than how to put a condom on a… zucchini.
The brands that won’t be able to keep up with the evolution, will die out. It’s only natural. The discourse is too wide and it’s spreading too fast to be ignored.